BASTROP — A month and a half after wildfires started their destructive sweep through Central Texas, Bastrop resident Mark Sheffield has finally cleaned up the debris and gotten rid of the slab on which his house once stood.
“The fire came from the east, through my back yard, burned my backyard completely and then stopped — did not burn down my front yard and all the trees in my front yard,” he said. “But my house was burned to the ground.”
Sheffield, a banker who says he can’t move away from his business, was quick to buy a new house — one of many Bastrop residents to do so.
Since the Labor Day fires, which destroyed more 1,600 homes and took two lives, Bastrop has a glut of prospective homebuyers and a limited number of homes. Suddenly Bastrop has a booming real estate market.
Because many fire victims are staying in the area, homes that have been on the market for months are finally getting sold. Before the fires, five houses had been sold all year in the subdivision where Sheffield is moving. In the six weeks since the fire, contracts have been signed on 13 homes.
“I made a decision shortly after the fire, before the real buying frenzy set in,” Sheffield said. “I felt like I needed to make a decision quickly. I didn’t get caught up in the current bidding frenzy.”
Frank Rainosek, a Realtor with RE/MAX in the Bastrop area, said his properties are selling at a record rate. “It’s crazy,” he said. “Definitely there’s a lot more buyers because of the fire, because they’ve got no place to live.”
According to the Austin Board of Realtors Listing Service, at least 53 home sales in Bastrop were pending in mid-October. Since January, 149 homes have been sold in Bastrop, and 37 homes were sold in September and October of last year.
Cedar Creek — the area between Austin and Bastrop — has also seen a jump in home sales. As of Oct. 17, 19 homes sales were pending there, compared with nine sold during September and October last year.
“That’s where I’ve seen the biggest increases — back towards Cedar Creek,” Rainosek said. “I’ve seen people pay more than what the values were before the fire just because it’s so much closer to Austin.”
According to Movoto.com, listing prices are increasing in Bastrop as well. As of Oct. 31, the median listing price for houses in Bastrop was $189,900, a 13 percent increase from last month ($164,900) and an 11 percent increase from October 2010 ($169,000).
But these booming markets are an anomaly in Texas’ otherwise anemic real estate market according to Cameron Boone, a real estate consultant with Lewis Realty Advisors in Houston.
“We still have an impasse between willing buyers and willing sellers,” Boone said. “You’ve got asking prices which are not at the same level of what buyers are willing to pay.”
The wildfires have created a different kind of market by tipping the scales of supply and demand, said Jim Gaines with the Texas A&M Real Estate Center.
“You’ve just reduced the supply of houses,” said Gaines. “If they’re going to stay in the general vicinity, it’s going to create a lot of demand for what’s there.”
Gaines pointed out that this isn’t the case with all natural disasters. In areas where disasters happen every so often, people sometimes decide to move elsewhere.
“But for what happened in Bastrop, it’s so rare,” says Gaines. “That magnitude of a disaster is so rare down there — most people just really want to stay.
That’s what Mark Sheffield is doing, and he’s keeping his charred property — which he continues to clean up.
“All I have left to do now is clean up the trees that have no hope of recovering by next spring,” he said. “I will hold on to it until someone would like to buy it from me.”